During our third year of living in Central Asia, the 25th of December fell on a Sunday. That year our Christmas dinner was spent sitting around a huge long table with all of our church eating Central Asian salads and horse meat sausage. Earlier we had participated in the Christmas concert and this introvert had to sing in front of the whole church with my family. As I sat there surrounded by Central Asians drinking my milky tea and talking in a foreign language, I must admit that I longed to be back home with my extended family eating our traditional roast Christmas meal and sharing gifts and laughter together.
Here in Central Asia the church is young and in some ways it’s still finding its way and making its own traditions and celebrations. This is not a biblical exposition on how Christianity should integrate into a culture, but simply my observations of how our young church celebrates and the issues I’ve seen the church struggle with. It’s been a privilege to explore with them what Christmas looks like within this culture.
We’ve watched our fellowship engage with questions like: what is tradition? What is biblical? How do we keep our Central Asian culture and traditions within this new faith?
One of our church leaders has enjoyed hearing about our family Christmas traditions. We’ve explained advent and the advent wreath we use to help our family to look forward to the Light coming into the world. We’ve included our leader’s family in whatever advent activity we’re doing with our kids that year – the names of Jesus or the Jesse tree etc.
The date on which our church chooses to celebrate Christmas is interesting for us. Do the churches celebrate Christmas on the more western traditional date of December 25th or do they celebrate along with their orthodox churches in the region on January 9th (This goes for Easter too)?
During Soviet times all the secular Christmassy things were put onto New Years so here we have a New Year’s trees, a New Year’s Santa—with a frost fairy to help him—and presents for children on New Year’s Day. December 25th is simply another work day (except for when it falls on a Sunday).
Spending Christmases in this part of the world has helped us find traditions that are meaningful for our kids. We’ve had to ask: how do we make traditions which are special for our kids which transcend culture or the place where we are living?
It’s helped me realise the significance of the day without the hype and commercialism – because here that all falls on New Year!
Christmas is about Jesus and celebrating His birth, and I’m realising each year that it doesn’t really matter if we’re eating roast chicken or horse meat or whether we’re with special family or up on stage singing. It’s a joy to celebrate the Light coming into the world, especially in this somewhat dark corner of the globe.
Beth is from the global South, and she loves the ocean and cold Christmas dinner on a hot day around the pool. She is married to an adventurer, and they have three wonderfully unique children.